Man, it’s rough when an entertainment company you love breaks their winning streak.
Marvel’s been cranking out consistently good material both in the cinematic universe and in the television universe for years now, and I think maybe we all got so used to it that we forgot it’s possible to completely miss the mark. To me, that’s what their latest venture, Iron Fist, is in essence: a swing and a miss.
To be frank, I rage quit the pilot to Iron Fist twice. Keep in mind, I wasn’t one of the naysayers who hated it before it came out and I actually didn’t listen to the early negative reviews because I knew there were people who wanted to hate it right out of the gate and nothing was going to change their minds. I saw the trailer and felt underwhelmed, but with Marvel’s excellent track record, I was willing to give it a try. This is not to say that I haven’t had problems with a few Marvel properties before. For instance, I didn’t finish Jessica Jones—not because it wasn’t good, but rather because I was not the key demographic for that show. Being an urban fantasy author, I have seen the exact same archetype that Jessica Jones is about a million times and so I was already burned out on the “inexplicably attractive but perpetually rude and standoffish private detective with super special powers” trope long before the show came around. Plus, the pacing was too slow and I wasn’t a fan of the gratuitous sex scenes with the far superior character of Luke Cage.
So why did I rage quit Iron Fist?
In order to understand why I’ve included Iron Fist in the cautionary tales catalog on my blog, let’s take a look at just what made me quit watching the pilot twice in the same day. Let’s do a comparison between the first fifteen minutes of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, and see if you can understand my utter frustration with this new show.
In the first fifteen minutes of Daredevil, here is what is established:
-How Matt Murdock lost his eyesight as a child and gained his powers saving an old man’s life
-Matt’s devout Catholicism and conflicted conscious because of how he misses his father and realizes how much they are alike in having “the devil” in them
-Matt goes down to the docks and stops a bunch a human traffickers from kidnapping innocent women
-Gives us that unforgettable opening sequence of blood over the city
-Introduces the unbelievably perfect Foggy Nelson and what he does for a living with Matt as well as the friend they have on the police force
-Introduces Karen Page and her predicament
-Introduces the dynamic between Karen, Matt, and Foggy
In the first fifteen minutes of Luke Cage, here is what is established:
-That funky, colorful opening sequence
-Introduces Pops and his shop members as well as Luke’s overall cool-as-a-cucumber-but-don’t-push-your-luck-fool attitude
-Introduces a minor character and her son who will impact the plot later on
-Establishes the relationship between Luke and Pops and hints at Luke’s powers
-Hints at Luke’s backstory and shows us his daily struggles to find rent money and his desire to stay under the radar even though he could do more if he wanted to
-Introduces Harlem’s Paradise as well as the first two main villains, Cottonmouth and Mariah
And in the first fifteen minutes of Iron Fist, here is what is established:
-A bland, forgettable afterthought of an opening sequence
-Danny thinks he owns a building
-Danny thinks people he knew over a decade ago still work at his father’s company
-Danny thinks he can talk to the CEO of a company with no appointment and zero proof that he is the founder’s son who was believed to have died in a plane crash a decade ago
-Danny thinks that two people he knew when he was a kid would recognize him as an adult and after he was presumed dead as a child
-Danny presumably has no money and no shoes and just sleeps in the park after meeting a bum who ends up not contributing to the narrative whatsoever
-Danny, still looking homeless, starts speaking Mandarin to the Asian girl hanging up dojo fliers
-Danny breaks into his old house and walks around like it’s no big deal
-Danny’s relationship with Ward is revealed as abusive
Do you see the stark difference between these shows? How is it that Daredevil and Luke Cage can establish that much story in a quarter of the runtime and yet Iron Fist establishes almost nothing in the same amount of time? This is exactly why I couldn’t get through Iron Fist’s pilot in one sitting. First of all, Danny is characterized like an entitled douchebag. We don’t know anything about him other than he’s woefully naïve and just assumes that everything will fall into place for him without concrete evidence towards his claims. We don’t know why he came back to the city or what his mission is, whereas with both of our other examples, we are quickly shown the character’s personalities and what they are working towards. All we know is that Danny thinks he owns the company, but yet we see no skillset that suggests he even could run it when he doesn’t even have the good sense to wear shoes while walking through New York or to find some kind of proof that he is in fact Danny Rand.
I’ve been describing Iron Fist’s script as “something that was written the night before it was due and was never revised.” Now that the whole show is up on Netflix, we’re starting to get stories that fill in why this show is falling flat on its face, such as the fact that Finn Jones, the titular Danny, only trained three weeks before shooting a show about martial arts. That’s unheard of. If you check the backgrounds of most actors who are cast as superheroes, they train for literal months at a time—not only so that they are physically intimidating, but so that the fight choreography is nuanced, believable, and a joy to watch. For example, one of my favorite modern fight scenes is in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, specifically Captain America (Chris Evans) versus Batroc (Georges St. Pierre) because Chris Evans trained for months to be able to do a majority of the shots in that amazing fight scene since he is in fact opposite a real UFC fighter. It is painfully obvious when Danny Rand fights that he isn’t a martial artist, and it would be different if it were like Daredevil when you have the complicated routines performed by an amazing stunt double. I didn’t make it past the pilot, but I’ve heard that Iron Fist’s fight choreography centered around Finn Jones is underwhelming at best, and it’s impossible not to make a comparison to either Daredevil or Luke Cage, which had intense fight scenes that were both unique and engrossing.
Furthermore, even if you forget the sloppy fighting, the dialogue is wooden and poorly done. Dialogue is about moving the plot forward, making complications between characters, or solving a problem, and none of that is included in the pilot episode of Iron Fist. It is so obvious that they are dumping exposition on your head. They don’t even try to hide it. Hell, the two main villains basically have a meeting where absolutely nothing gets done. They just meet to show the audience that they’re evil and in cahootz with each other. They don’t solve the problem at hand; they instead regurgitate rancid dialogue to establish their relationship.
Lastly, it also doesn’t help that Danny comes across as a pretentious college kid who spent one summer abroad and thinks he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Buddhist martial artist. Later in the pilot episode, he once again finds the Asian girl and starts condescendingly telling her that she should teach kung fu if she wants more students, mansplains that he’s supposed to “fight the master of the dojo” now that he has entered their city, and asserts that she should just give him a job even though he still looks like a crazy hobo. Understandably, she tells him to get lost, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth that he’s so arrogant. The troublesome part is that arrogance is a normal thing in certain heroes like Tony Stark or Thor, but even in those movies, we are immediately shown that both of them have a heart and are just spoiled rather than truly being douchebags. Danny doesn’t give us a moment of humanity in the pilot. He doesn’t give us a reason to care about him, and at the end of the day, if you don’t do that in the first episode of your show, odds are that you are doomed to fail.
In the end, even though I can’t fully judge the show since I won’t be finishing it, I think this is a product of Marvel rushing to put something out so that they have time to work on the Defenders instead. Danny Rand is an afterthought. This whole show feels like an afterthought. It doesn’t have a flavor. It doesn’t have the careful writing or beautiful cinematography of any of its siblings. If nothing else, then Iron Fist teaches us caution—that even when you’re on a winning streak you can still bomb out if you don’t take your time and tell a story worth telling. Even the mighty Marvel can trip and fall. No one is above that.
Let’s just hope they try harder with the upcoming Defenders show.
Kyoko M is the Amazon bestselling author of The Black Parade and the Of Cinder and Bone series.